It’s never easy to get in shape – and it can get even harder as you grow older and middle-aged spread starts, well, spreading.
But developing the shape of a sack of spuds is not inevitable in middle age – just look at Jennifer Lopez, 51. Although clearly blessed with good genes, the movie star still has to work out to maintain her enviable physique and has revealed that as she gets older, her trick is to workout “harder and smarter” than she used to.
The mother-of-two told InStyle Magazine: “I’m in the best shape of my life. In my 20s and 30s I used to workout, but not like I do now. It’s not that I workout more; I just workout harder and smarter. And it doesn’t take me as long as it did in the past.”
Personal trainer Henry Myers of HM Fitness in Leeds says that as we age, our metabolism begins to slow, so exercise is a great way to give it a boost and help avoid illness related to weight gain.
“Whatever your goal or motivation – whether you want to look like J.Lo or just boost your health – exercise simply improves the quality of life,” he stresses.
“As we age, high impact moves can prove a little too gruelling at times, so substitute some of the more plyometric [jump training] and explosive exercises with lower impact alternatives: as long as you keep your rep count high and apply good effort, you’ll still reap the rewards of the high-intensity workouts and continue to burn calories even after you finish.”
This goes for other types of exercise too, he says – walking, cycling or rowing can be much friendlier on the joints, while still taxing the cardiovascular and muscular system.
“The key is to make sure that whatever you’re doing makes you feel good,” says Alastair Crew, David Lloyd master trainer. “Our advice would be to ensure that you’re enjoying a variety and, without getting too technical, ensuring the ‘primal movement’ patterns are covered.
These are: Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge/Bend, Twist, Gate and Lunge.” Something as simple as a squat, for instance, can be really beneficial, as this functional move relates to multiple everyday movement patterns, such as getting up off the sofa or the toilet.
But exercise that includes some form of impact, such as HIIT (high impact interval training) is still worthwhile, explains Myers, as it can help maintain and improve bone health and strength.
“Our physicality tends to peak in our early 30s, so once you’re [older than that] it’s really important to look after your body and do what you can to either maintain the good health you’re in, improve your overall health, or slow the inescapable decline as we reach older age,” he says.
“HIIT workouts are great – they can prove the most effective and time-efficient way of training. HIIT can boost your metabolism, burn high calories and fat in a short time, can be fun and done with minimal equipment (even just your own bodyweight) in any place, at any time. Just 20-30 mins, three to four times a week would prove incredibly effective.”
Myers points out that the benefits of exercise go way beyond the physical and can help relieve stress, reduce cognitive decline, and tremendously improve mental fitness.
“In short, the main thing to consider when exercising during middle age is understanding your body is on the decline from its peak ability. So rather than going gung ho and approaching it from a performance perspective, it’s much more about looking after the body and looking to improve quality of life,” says Myers.
“A 20-year-old body is not the same as a 50-year-old body – it can’t be pushed in the same way,” adds Crew. “Recovery is really important; as we get older we don’t recover as quickly as we used to.
Plan your workout week accordingly; balance out a HIIT day with a Pilates session, relax and do nothing or consider something with less ‘mechanical stress’ like swimming.”
Myers’ exercise plan for middle age
Always consult your doctor before starting a new type of exercise if you’re not used to it, but if you’re already active, consider trying this simple exercise plan.
Time: 20-30 minutes of high-intensity exercise or 30-40 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (as long as you elevate your heart rate above resting rate).
Type: HIIT, resistance training, walking or running.
Tally: Three times a week, avoiding having three days off in a row.